Two Days, One Night

  • Film
  • Drama
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Belgium's Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, make punchy, contemporary, socially aware films – simple on the surface but alive with compassion and wisdom. As filmmakers the Dardennes are never less than reliable, yet still 'Two Days, One Night' feels like one of their best, up there with 'The Child' or 'Rosetta' in its cast-iron sense of purpose, searing relevance and understanding of how tough it is for all of us, especially the less well-off, to do the right thing in our everyday lives.

It features a career-high performance from Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard – by far the Dardennes' starriest casting to date – and has a starting-gun premise: a young mother, Sandra (Cotillard), recently off work with depression, is made redundant from a small factory that makes solar panels. In her absence, 14 of her 16 colleagues have voted to take their bonuses (around 1,000 euros each) rather than let her keep her job. But willed into action by a supportive husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), she persuades her boss to give her one last chance and to host a second vote round of voting two days later. Will she be able to save her job by knocking on doors over the weekend to persuade her colleagues to support her?

What follows could so easily feel repetitive or like a perfunctory tour of Belgium's working classes as, one by one, we meet these 16 colleagues and their families, hovering on their doorsteps or in their homes. But in the hands of the Dardennes the repetition – the question, 'Will you vote for me?', asked again and again – allows us to see the same situation from a new perspective. It also perfectly suits the Dardennes' unobtrusive, immediate, agile style of shooting as they dash about with Sandra from home to home. With each encounter, each vote shifts from an abstract idea into an opinion that's attached to a life, to a family, to a need to pay for a child's education, to settle the gas bill or, in one case, to buy a new patio. Most importantly, the film involves us: it draws us into the debate, makes us complicit, demands that we have an opinion, and then upends that same opinion a few minutes later. It's engaging and rousing.

Sandra is tired and deflated; it seems her whole body is ready to crumple up. The physical side of the performance is handled brilliantly by Cotillard, who shows Sandra almost losing the power of speech, unable to get the words out of her mouth. The Dardennes show the terror involved in confrontation and taking a stand. We witness a woman fighting not only for her job but in some ways for her life: 'I don't exist, I'm nothing, nothing at all.'

'Two Days, One Night' is also a portrait of love and friendship, and the Dardennes subtly sketch the relationship between Sandra and Manu, as well her friendship with a colleague. Two scenes showing Sandra and Manu, and later Sandra and Manu and the friend, singing along to music while driving stress the power of these bonds better than any words.

This is political drama (with the smallest of p's) at its finest and most humane: heady, engaging, gently ingraining ideas about empowerment, taking a stand and how we organise our societies into the fabric of the film. Each one of Sandra's encounters is a surprise and adds shade or a new perspective to what we think the film has to tell us about human nature and how we live our lives. There are no heroes or villains here; everybody is simply getting by, and by the skin of their teeth. After spending 'Two Days, One Night' in the company of Sandra, you'll be punching the air with pride.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 22 2014
Duration: 95 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard
Olivier Gourmet
Fabrizio Rongione

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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LiveReviews|5
6 people listening
David G
1 of 1 found helpful

One of the worst films l have seen this year.It is amateurish and dull.The story is about a woman who will lose her job if the other employees accept a 1000 euro bonus.Otherwise they forego the bonuses and she keeps her job.She goes one by one to each employee to persuade them not to take the bonus.She does this 13 times during the film.Each one tells a story of hardship on their part.All fine except 13 times of the same thing is just repetitive and flat.We get the message after the first one.Each of the 13 is essentially the same scene done over and over again.

The acting is simply dire and the script is very clunky.The story itself lacks credibility and the ending is laughable. Very poor effort all round

tom h

More fool me for believing the critical acclaim, I want my money back because this really is drivel. Two dimensional characters lurching  from shot to shot, poorly conceived platitudes dribbling from the mouthes. A cast of useless wannabes pretending to working class. Sandra the 'vulnerable' heroin, so beautiful that when she faces unemployment it's hard not to shout out "have you tried modelling love, or perhaps a career as an actress, seen as that's clearly what you're trying to be." She certainly hasn't worked in a machine shop ever, or made a child's bed before.

The supporting cast are no better, the men either blubbering or punching their way through the tracing paper script, the women a collection of hand wringing lip tremblers. 

Most awkward scene of the year? Sandra's 'supportive friends' trying to sing along to Gloria in the car, clearly they were were as embarrassed as I was. Eau de toilette or toilet water as we say in the UK.

Nick M

It'll have you twisting in your seat with frustration and rage at the comings and goings of the protagonists - which is surely a good sign as few films seem to involve us in this way nowadays. It presents a simple moral dilemma, but then shows us 16 different angles which demonstrate that it is perhaps not as simple as first thought. A film that I will everyone should see, despite being imperfect in some ways. 4*

Nick A

It’s great than in the usual cinema world of crazed killers,CGI fantasy and never-ending pointless sequelssome people are still making brilliant films about ordinary people.Marion Cottilard is superb,playing a stressed out,mixed up Mum recovering from depression and fighting to get her job back.She’s put in a seeming impossible position, created by her supervisor, where her colleagues have to choose between a much needed bonus, or allowing her back to work.Her workmates span the whole spectrum from supportive to dismissive, with every reason imaginable to not help her – which is just the real world.The supporting characters are also well drawn, and the cinematography seems to reflectthe sheer ordinariness of it all , with her walking round grey, bland urban streets looking for the homes of her workmates.Nothing is rushed,and we the audience gradually warm to Sandra, and start to root for her in her challenge,and the story plays out to what is probably the only satisfactory conclusion, but still a surprise.